Voice of the Bay

Sew Many Dresses

Genevieve Quigley offers honest advice on trends in wedding gowns

The Bay Magazine ·

The East Bay wedding season has begun and seamstress Genevieve Quigley knows a thing or two about wedding gowns. She designed and sewed her first one in 1954. The Bronx native graduated from the Jane Addams Vocational High School for Girls and on scholarship attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, considered one of the top five fashion schools in the world, where she received her degree in fashion design. Married to James Quigley, whose Navy career brought the family to Rhode Island, she has been a Bristol resident since 1963. Mother of two and grandmother of three, Genevieve is a longtime bowler of ten pins and still gets to the lanes once a week. Retired for many years, “Mrs. Quigley,” as she is affectionately known, continues to create wedding gowns for family and friends.


My mother taught me to sew. I can remember being ten years old making aprons for my aunts with their initials on the pockets. I love sewing any material. I always feel accomplished making something.

I am a big advocate of vocational schools. I don’t believe you should have to pay to learn a trade after high school. I don’t think it’s fair. Not everyone can be a college student. In ninth grade we took six weeks each of dressmaking, hairdressing, cosmetology, food service, millenary and childcare. In tenth grade you would choose one for the next three years. We took our trade classes in the morning and academics in the afternoon.

I always made wedding gowns for family and friends. It takes me typically a month. I always have to remind the bride to bring the right underwear to the fitting. It makes a big difference. And no spanx! It just moves the fat somewhere else. When the bride decides on a style of a gown, she needs to know what really looks good on her. If it looks good on Jennifer Lopez it might not on the bride. I can remember the priest saying if you come to church with a low-neck dress we will put a cape on you before you go down the aisle. Today you are lucky if the bride covers her boobs. The gowns are so tight I don’t know how they dance in them. When you get married you want to be the belle of the ball. How are you going to be the belle in a sheath?

There is a lot less lace and more embroidery on gowns. Since Kate Middleton’s dress they are a little more regal and have more lace like hers. Wedding gowns were always closed in the back with covered buttons. It would take the groom so long to get the bride out of the dress. Today, manufactured wedding gowns have zippers instead, which just rubs me the wrong way.

I was trained in the slow fashion method so there is a hem and seam allowance, which allows you to let out a garment. Today it is fast fashion. Seams are done on an overlock machine, which does a cover stitch hem and there is no seam binding. Dockers’ pants for men don’t allow any room to let out in the waist and inseam. That is the size it is and you better not gain any weight. Also, zippers are sewn outside of dresses with the zipper teeth showing. It’s gross. Shortcuts save time and money but the price of a dress has not gone down. Most fabrics today have some polyester in them. There is also lots of fleece material. How many fleece things can you have besides blankets? 

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